Successive governments have redefined ‘faith’ in Pakistan’s motto and used it to manipulate the country’s educational system
Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy, writing in Foreign Affairs in 2004, noted: “When he founded Pakistan in 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah—an impeccably dressed Westernized Muslim with Victorian manners and a secular outlook—promised the subcontinent’s Muslims that they would finally be able to fulfill their cultural and civilizational destiny. Although the new nation arose from a bloodbath of ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence, and its fundamental premise was that Hindus and Muslims could never live together, its early years nevertheless held some promise of a liberal, relatively secular polity.
“But with time, Jinnah’s Pakistan has grown weaker, more authoritarian, and increasingly theocratic. Now set to become the world’s fourth most populous nation, it is all of several things: a client state of the United States yet deeply resentful of it; a breeding ground for jihad and Al Qaeda as well as a key U.S. ally in the fight against international terrorism; an economy and society run for the benefit of Pakistan’s warrior class, yet with a relatively free and feisty press; a country where education and science refuse to flourish but which is nevertheless a declared nuclear power; and an inward-looking society that is manifestly intolerant of minorities.”
Over 15 years later, needless to say, Pakistan continues to wonder what kind of state it wants to be. The nation’s founders themselves were not clear on this point, with Jinnah himself being suspected of being a secular person. He announced his “dubious” motto—Unity, Faith, Discipline—soon after the formation of the state in 1947; but his Muslim League companions were not satisfied with what it meant. Where was Islam in it, the religion of the people who were to live in this new state? If ‘faith’ was Islam why was it placed second to ‘unity’? In the years that followed Jinnah’s death, they tinkered with his motto, laying the foundation of self-doubt that continues to haunt the state in 2022.
Unity-faith-discipline or Faith-unity-discipline?
Columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha, writing in daily Dawn on Oct. 8, 2017, recalled: “Zamir Niazi in The Web of Censorship quotes Hamid Jalal—a former civil servant and father of the acclaimed historian and author Ayesha Jalal—as saying: ‘Jinnah’s motto Unity-Faith-Discipline has been presented as Faith-Unity-Discipline. Perhaps our theocrats, clutching at straws, equate the word ‘faith’ used in the Quaid’s motto with Islam. There is evidence to show that for the Quaid, ‘faith’ (yaqeen, not imaan) was to be used in the context of the Pakistan Movement.” In an interesting coda, Paracha added: “Once Pakistan had been achieved, the Quaid as Governor-General, in his first broadcast from Lahore on Aug. 31, reworded his motto. He said: ‘It is up to you to work, work and work and we are bound to succeed and never forget our motto: Unity, Discipline and Faith’.”
In this instance the Quaid had put “faith” last! Later, as democracy collapsed, General Zia put “faith” first and translated it as “Iman” whereas under Jinnah the accepted translation was “yaqin-e-muhkam” (strong faith) as it appeared on an early Pakistani postage stamp. The National Anthem of Pakistan even today faithfully adds “yaqin” rather than “iman” in its phrase: “markaz-e-yaqin shad-bad.”
Seduction of a uniform mind
The journey predictably wandered into the domain of education in September 2020, when Federal Minister of Education Shafqat Mehmood announced the resolve of the P.M. Imran Khan government to introduce a Single National Curriculum (SNC) in the country. Addressing a public event, he did not say what the SNC would achieve—which is always difficult when you discuss education—but was clear about what it is aimed at removing: the so-called “educational apartheid.”
Deriding the “effete intellectualism” of those who oppose the SNC, he said it would unite “a nation divided by perceptual walls” that is “unable to come up to many challenges that confront us including poverty, hunger and disease.” The crux of his uniformity-producing educational utopia was contained in the undertaking to remove English from the system: “English should be taught as a language, but all other subjects from grade 1 to 5 should be taught either in Urdu or in the mother language.” The minister suppressed a snicker when he conceded that only those whose mother tongue was English could have English as medium of instruction.
The state of education
The real problem, which the minister didn’t highlight and which would make the removal of English as medium of instruction meaningless, are the 22.8 million children who don’t attend school. Only 2 million did, and the task of putting nearly 23 million children to school had nothing to do with English. Pakistan spends 2.9 percent of its GDP on education and is haunted by “ghost schools” and absentee teachers who nonetheless draw salaries; as well as schools without basic facilities such as bathrooms and textbook boards in provinces that produce books not worth looking at. And these books are not in English, which is supposed to create “apartheid.” Some kind of “unmeasured” religious rift is also created by the 40,000 madrassas in the country that belong to at least three internally conflicted sects.
Uniformity of mind is supposed to create “utopia” but ends up producing a brainwashed “dystopia” of an unproductive population given to intolerance of variant points of view. Thinking of the past, ex-senator Farhatullah Babar writes: “By imposing uniformity, the state not only imposed Urdu on Bengalis but also imposed ‘parity’ formula to give equal political weight to the majority East Pakistan with the minority West Pakistan … Diversity of thought, of religion, of cultures, of languages is the soul of a federal structure. Crushing it will crush the soul of the state and society.”
Wisdom at the beginning
In 1947, soon after the creation of Pakistan, the country’s first Education Ministry emphasized the teaching of the sciences, law and economics, whereas religious teaching was to be undertaken privately. In 1959, at the start of the Ayub Khan regime, the Commission on National Education suggested designing of curricula “to focus on developing basic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, creating a high sense of patriotism as well as a liking for working with one’s own hand and additional subjects for specific vocations and careers.”
It is going to be self-damaging to throw English out as medium of instruction. Its logical-sequential discourse is needed by a people nurtured by religious sermons and a lot of folk and national poetry. If “rational thought” is the need of the hour in the face of “moon-sighting” ulema talking of jihad and 130-feet tall “young girls” created in the Hereafter for the pleasure of oversexed “good Muslims”, then Shafqat Mehmood is walking into a familiar wall. In Punjab, books have started being banned in anticipation; and “English-medium” schools have been instructed to remove a chapter on “reproduction” from textbooks and purge math books of “pictures of piglets.”
Article 22(1) of the Constitution, obsolete in the eyes of “nazriati” (ideological) politicians, says: “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony of worship relates to a religion other than his own.” This law implies that no lesson in any textbook that is compulsory to students of all faiths can contain material specific to any religion. The SNC violates this fundamental right of non-Muslim Pakistani citizens by prescribing lessons in Urdu and English courses that are already a part of the Islamiat curriculum. Urdu textbooks are asked to start with a hamd and a naat, and there is invariably a lesson on Seerat-un-Nabi or the life of Islam’s Prophet.
On Dec. 7, 2020, world-renowned academician Noam Chomsky was speaking at the 6th Yohsin Lecture organized by Pakistan’s Habib University in Karachi. He said something that shocks no rational person: he regretted the disappearance of science from Pakistan’s educational system. He said, “Pakistan, which used to have advanced science, technology, etc, and produced Nobel laureates has no future in the free world as it has embraced religious superstition, extremism, religious intolerance, isolationism, and its educational standards have plummeted to unbelievable levels.”
Pakistan’s leading educationist A.H. Nayyar points out what happens when Article 22(1) is violated: “A lesson on Seerat-un-Nabi is prescribed in English textbooks of all grades. When challenged to justify this violation of constitutional right, the officials refused to correct the wrong. Instead they prescribed outlandish ways of avoiding the violation: they want teachers to ask non-Muslim students to leave the class during such lessons (and do what, they do not say). They also prescribe exempting non-Muslim students from answering examination questions relating to such lessons, a risk that few students would want to take since examiners could easily be prejudiced against non-Muslims. They keep insisting on retaining Islamiat lessons in compulsory courses in spite of the fact that these topics are already covered in the exclusive course on Islamiat.”
From Allama Iqbal to Hoodbhoy
Does all this go back to our rejection of rationality? Paradoxically, our philosopher of the state, Allama Iqbal, himself appears to be rejecting aql (reason) in favor of a supra-aql acceptance of Islam. This he does all the time in his poetry but it would be untrue to say that he did not do so in his lectures. In fact when you explore why he liked certain Western thinkers, you reach the conclusion that—when not under poetic inspiration—he wanted a blend of reason and revelation rather than pure reason. Today, we find Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy arguing with the clergy (without much effect) in favor of the inclusion of science in Pakistan’s worldview.
The upshot of this is that we are able to deal with emotional moments with great ease. A man who restricts himself to reason will fare badly in such a situation. The unfortunate fact, however, is that a man who has rejected reason will fare badly when faced by a moment requiring rational thinking. Yet the emotional man has a kind of advantage over the rational man. He can approach a rational moment with emotion, but a rational man is helpless in the face of a highly charged emotional situation. All moments requiring a rational assessment can be confronted with high emotion (walwala). There are more tools available in Muslim societies for this walwala than in the West where reason has suppressed such collectively emotive concepts as nationalism.
What confronts us in the “uniform curriculum” handed down by Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2020 is the removal from our children’s consciousness the vestiges of rational thinking embodied in the discourse of the English language. Here is how Hoodbhoy saw Pakistani “science” books in an article published in 2016: “Local biology books are even more schizophrenic and confusing than the physics ones. A 10th-grade book starts off its section on ‘Life and its Origins’ unctuously quoting one religious verse after another. None of these verses hint towards evolution, and many Muslims believe that evolution is counter-religious. Then, suddenly, a full-page annotated chart hits you in the face. Stolen from some modern biology book written in some other part of the world, it depicts various living organisms evolving into apes and then into modern humans. Ouch!”